The names may sound familiar but China’s representatives at this year’s OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup will be the completely new partnership of Liang Wen-chong and 24 year old Zhang Xin-jun, who fly the flag for the host nation from November 24-27.
The Zhang-Liang combination will resonate loudly with Chinese golf fans – in 2009 the Zhang member of the team was 46 year old veteran Zhang Lian-wei. However, this year the trail-blazing Chinese golfer, who won on The European and Asian Tours during a wonderful career, is stepping aside for his younger counterpart, the up-and-coming Zhang Xin-jun.
This inspiring partnership offers countless possibilities and the home nation is already hoping that it will bring a new dynamism to the Chinese challenge at Mission Hills Resort, Hainan, China.
In 1995, David Chu, founder of Mission Hills Group, brought the World Cup of Golf to China for the first time. That year, the 41st edition of the tournament, saw Chinese representatives Zhang Lian-wei and Cheng Jun finish in 27th place, in China’s first ever appearance in the event.
That year, Liang Wen-chong was a mere 17 year old youngster making his first tentative steps in the sport, in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province.
“I had just picked up golf two years earlier, and every day I immersed myself totally in the sport," said Liang, adding, "I got up very early and jogged to the course for practice; and then went back to the course after school to hone my skills after dark.”
Liang continued: "In those days the only thing I thought about was to practice, to enrich my experience and to integrate myself into the world of golf. Other than concentrating on learning from others, I didn’t think too much - such simple days.”
In 2001, Liang made his World Cup debut, partnering a golfing figure who had been an inspiration to him - Zhang Lian-wei. “That year the World Cup was held in Gotenba in Japan," Liang recalled, "This was the first time I took part in the competition and everything was so new and fresh to me. I went to Japan to learn.”
Liang Wen-chong and Zhang Lian-wei partnered one another four times in the World Cup, achieving their best result in 2007 when they finished 11th. Despite falling short of their goal to finish in the top ten, their partnership was considered a success, taking into account their impressive performances at the Chinese domestic tournament, the Buddha Cup, and the Dynasty Cup held between Japan and the rest of Asia.
Liang added: "I'm very grateful to Zhang. He is my mentor as well as my friend, and I consider him to be like my elder brother. Without his help and guidance, I would never have got to where I am today - Zhang is the most remarkable of China's first-generation golfers. He plays a pro-active role in helping newcomers to the sport, he’s the pioneer for golf in China and has blazed a trail for other players.”
This year, the 24 year old Zhang Xin-jun will take the 46 year old’s place to join the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup field in Haikou. Zhang has a strong pedigree, having won China's Pro-Am Tournament in 2008 and again in September this year.
Zhang Xin-jun said: “I've experienced a lot since winning my last championship, and played in several tournaments both at home and abroad, such as the Asian Games. I suffered some setbacks yet I have learnt a great deal from them.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs since winning my first championship, but after turning pro I think I've improved a lot, especially since I managed to win the Pro-Am again this year - I was in pretty good form that week. Also, I’m more stable and have a good attitude now. I try not to get upset if I perform poorly and I don't let it affect the rest of my game."
Liang Wen-chong speaks highly of his new partner, saying: “I first teamed up with Zhang Xin-jun at the Buddha Cup in 2008, and his swing, pace and feel for the ball is very impressive.
“He’s a hard working player, and more importantly, he's dedicated towards learning and improving his game - he seems to have developed his own system. At the Nanshan China Masters this year, Zhang Xin-jun impressed me again. He showed that he'd gained more professionalism from being with the national team and had made outstanding progress - laying a solid foundation for his career to go from amateur to professional. He has a bright future ahead of him."
In May this year, the new Chinese lineup made their first appearance at the Nanshan tournament in Shandong Province. For the upcoming World Cup, the China Golf Association has spared no effort to support Liang and Zhang using all of the resources at its disposal.
This year is Liang Wen-chong’s fifth appearance in the World Cup, and it’s been a decade since his first appearance. His rich experience benefits not only his own performance, but that of the team.
“As a professional player, we compete in most games only as individuals, but so far the World Cup is the only contest that allows us to represent our country. We wear national flags with pride, something which brings us a sense of honour and responsibility."
Liang concluded: “Experience is important on the course, but, we shouldn't be a slave to it - sometimes thinking outside the box will do both of us good. There is no distinct leader in our team between myself and Zhang Xin-jun. Full communication and trust is the most important thing."
"My personal goal for this World Cup is to achieve my best ever score - so this is also the team's goal”.